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John Claridge’s East End Shops

February 22, 2017
by the gentle author

Ross Bakeries, Quaker St, 1966

“I used to go to the shops with my mum every Saturday morning, and she’d meet people she knew and they’d be chatting for maybe an hour, so I’d go off and meet other kids and we’d be playing on a bombsite – it was a strange education!” John told me, neatly illustrating how these small shops were integral to the fabric of society in his childhood.“People had a pride in what they were selling or what they were doing” he recalled,“You’d go into these places and they’d all smell different. They all had their distinct character, it was wonderful.”

Although generations of the family were dockers, John’s father warned him that the London Docks were in terminal decline and he sought a career elsewhere. Consequently, even as a youth, John realised that a whole way of life was going to be swept away in the changes which were coming to the East End. And this foresight inspired John to photograph the familiar culture of small shops and shopkeepers that he held in such affection. “Even then I had the feeling that things were going to be overrun, without regard to what those in that society wanted.” he confirmed to me with regret.

As the remaining small shopkeepers fight for their survival, in the face of escalating rents, business rates and the incursion of chain stores, John Claridge’s poignant images are a salient reminder of the venerable tradition of local shops here that we cannot afford to lose.


Shop in Spitalfields, 1964.

C & K Grocers, Spitalfields, 1982 – “From the floor to the roof, the shop was stocked full of everything you could imagine.”

Cobbler, Spitalfields, 1969.

Flo’s Stores, Spitalfields, 1962 – “All the shops were individual then. Somebody painted the typography themselves here and it’s brilliant.”

Fruit & Veg, Bethnal Green 1961 – “I’d been to a party and it was five o’clock in the morning, but she was open.”

W.Wernick, Spitalfields, 1962.

Fishmonger, Spitalfields, 1965.

Corner Shop, Spitalfields, 1961 – “The kid’s just got his stuff for his mum and he’s walking back.”

At W.Wernick Poulterers, Spitalfields, 1962 – “She’s got her hat, her cup of tea and her flask. There was no refrigeration but it was chilly.”

Fiorella Shoes, E2, 1966 – “There’s only four pairs of shoes in the window. How could they measure shoes to fit, when they couldn’t even fit the words in the window? The man next door said to me, ‘Would you like me to step back out of the picture?’ I said, ‘No, I’d really like you to be in the picture.”

Bertha, Spitalfields, 1982 – “Everything is closing down but you can still have a wedding! She’s been jilted at the altar and she’s just waiting now.”

Bakers, Spitalfields, 1959 – “There’s only three buns and a cake in the window.”

Jacques Wolff, E13 1960 – “His name was probably Jack Fox and he changed it to Jacques Wolff.”

Waltons, E13 1960 – “They just sold cheap shoes, but you could get a nice Italian pair knocked off from the docks at a good price.”

Churchman’s, Spitalfields, 1968 – “Anything you wanted from cigarettes to headache pills.”

White, Spitalfields 1967 – “I saw these three kids and photographed them, it was only afterwards I saw the name White.”

The Door, E2 1960.

The Window, E16  1982 – “Just a little dress shop, selling bits and pieces. The clothes could have been from almost any era.”

Victor, E14 1968 – “There’s no cars on the road, the place was empty, but there was a flower shop on the corner and it was always full of flowers.”

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

You may also like to take a look at

Along the Thames with John Claridge

At the Salvation Army with John Claridge

In a Lonely Place

A Few Diversions by John Claridge

This was my Landscape

8 Responses leave one →
  1. February 22, 2017

    Thanks for small shops & thanks for John Clarridge!

  2. February 22, 2017

    There is a strong sense of decay in the peeling shop fronts. I guess many of the buildings, sadly, were due for demolition. They seem neglected and unloved. The mood is grim, anti-nostalgic.

  3. February 22, 2017

    A very good edit this

  4. Jim McDermott permalink
    February 22, 2017

    After yesterday’s slightly more optimistic survey of the East End’s traditional small retailers, this one shows why so many fell victim to the newer, convenience culture. If owners couldn’t afford to keep adequate stocks at keen prices they were hardly prepared for the competition. I recall a small shop in my own home town (in Lancashire), the window of which was not only fully stacked but – a delightful touch – also hosted a miniature Hornby railway that ran in and out of the display and could be activated by passing kids by pushing a button on the external window frame.

    A few years later I passed by the now-empty premises, and saw a few pieces of rail-track scattered on the window table. A new Spar had opened down the road and undercut the smaller business mercilessly.

  5. February 22, 2017

    An opportunity to say how much I have loved owning a copy of “East End”, with John Claridge’s photos. It is a book that is always out on our table in the living room — We turn to any page, and marvel at the inscrutable “eye” that captured these images. Gritty, magnificent, and humane.
    Highly recommended.
    Thanks Gentle Author, for shining a light.

  6. gabrielle permalink
    February 22, 2017

    I was born in 1950 and kids thought nothing of bombsites and run down buildings. Pretty much stayed that way, except some monstrosities of flats thrown up, til developers arrived in 80s. Feel sorry for those who suffered deprivations of 2 world wars and when areas were improved were kicked out of London to make way for super rich.

    Not many people took pictures back then so these photos are especially welcome. Thank you John Claridge.

  7. February 23, 2017

    Wonderful time, those Sixties!

    Love & Peace

  8. Derek Cox permalink
    February 25, 2017

    Thanks for the bittersweet memories these photos invoke.

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